On Trinity Sunday years ago, on the day Sister Ann Manganaro died, I heard her last words: “God help me.” And the swirling undertow pulled me down. Why death? Why any death? Especially the death of one who had loved so well and true.
She was a Sister of Loretto, a physician, a poet. She was only in her mid-forties, but cancer would sweep her away. Away from the people she served in Guarjila, El Salvador, away from her Catholic Worker friends and family in St. Louis, away from the people who needed her healing powers, away from the faces who looked to her grace.
Job, in the midst of the storm of life, called out for an answer to the chaos he felt. And God replied to Job: “Who shut within doors the sea and clothed the clouds as babies in blankets?” That's that. Who was Job to question the unnameable and most high? And what do all of our complaints about death amount to?
Strongly as his quarrel with God may still haunt our thoughts, we Christians have a fuller answer to our questions than Job did. We have Jesus, sleeping, yet with us at sea. He sleeps even though the turbulence is close to flooding us. Finally he speaks up, only to chide us—almost as heartlessly as God did Job: “Be still. ... Why are you so terrified? Why are you lacking in faith?”
Our faith is not a guarantee that we will not go under. But it is a promise that, even if we nearly drown, Jesus will be with us. Not every storm of ours is miraculously silenced before his command, but all can be transformed by the abiding presence of love that disarms all fear.
This is not a mere human judgment, Paul warns us: “The love of Christ impels us. ... He died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sakes died and was raised up.”
The love of Christ is the object of our faith. It is not reducible to rational or utilitarian calculus. And yet it recasts the greatest absurdities that beleaguer our minds.
As a neonatal intensive care physician, Sister Ann once took care of a five-inch premature baby named Tamika. The girl was left in the hospital, fated to die, unable to thrive, bereft of possibility. She smiled once, cupped in Ann's hands, after weeks of being held, caressed and gazed upon. Then she died.
After we two buried Tamika with the help of a generous funeral director, I protested to Ann that it all felt so meaningless and bleak. “What on earth did Tamika ever have?”
“Well,” Ann said,“ she had the power to evoke love from me.”
And so it would be with Ann, just hours before she died, with all of her powers so diminished, her lively mind so quiet, her loving actions now gone. All that was left of Ann was what she shared with Tamika: the power to evoke our love. And God's.
Anyone in Christ is a new creation.
The old order has passed away; now all is new.